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by Melissa Hayes, Director of Liturgy,  All Saints Church, Pasadena

When we first started exploring this history of the feast of ‘Christ the King’ Sunday, I assumed it had been in our lectionary since the publication of the King James Bible (1611) – or at least the composition of Handel’s Messiah (1741). I decided to research its history going to the library (i.e., Google) and learn a bit more about it. I thought the first link (Wikipedia) was a joke – or at least a mistake: it claimed the feast day was established in 1925! Other links confirmed that:

Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy, which was claimed by Benito Mussolini.

The encyclical Quas Primas, symbolically marked that Christ must reign now temporally. In its replacing of the feast on the last Sunday of Pentecost, the later Mass of Paul VI calendar symbolized the new orientation of the Second Vatican Council in that Christ will reign, not now among nations, but at the end of time.

The Anglican Church, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists joined in adding this Feast Day to their lectionary. I couldn’t find the Feast Day in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but it does appear in the 1979 version (our current version.)

I took this information to our Language & Liturgy group and we had a field day with it. To 21st century ears the language of “Christ the King’ Sunday can sound like heavy-handed, hierarchical hold-over from our patriarch dominated past – and yet it makes perfect sense when you realize it was a response to the growing fascist movement in Europe.

Our group discussed Jesus standing against the empire and what that leadership looks like. We admitted our human response to someone of great spiritual authenticity is to venerate them – even if titles and hierarchies are not important to them. Our findings led us to conclude that Jesus “kingship” does not involve domination or triumphalism — but the radical, all-powerful compassion and love of Jesus seeking justice for all.

So here’s the Collect of the Day we pray at All Saints on Christ the King Sunday (this year November 26th:)

Most Gracious God, who in Jesus of Nazareth showed us an alternative to the kings, queens and emperors of history, help us to revere and emulate Jesus’ leadership: To love, and to seek justice for all people. Help us to recognize the true grandeur and life-changing power based in loving you and all of our neighbors. In Christ Jesus with you and the Holy Spirit, may we co-create a world ruled not through domination, but in that radical and all-powerful compassion and love. Amen.

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